How to Be a Poet

How To Be A Poet

(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Wendell Berry


29 comments on “How to Be a Poet

  1. This is exactly what i needed to read at this exact time … thank you, Bill.


  2. Bill,
    A poet I will never be.
    I’d much rather climb a tree.
    To sit and ponder things of value
    Is only torture for a guy like me.

    I much rather pull a garden weed
    Then try to have a mindful thought.
    It almost makes me bleed
    What heavy thinking has wrought.

    A poet I will never be
    I’d much rather climb a tree.
    So only simple things for me.
    Because I’d much rather climb a tree.

    So now you know why I don’t do poetry. Poetry is for deep thinkers or talented people. I am neither. My wisdom, if there is any, comes from experience and mistakes along life’s journey. I function much better if I stick to construction, gardening, repair, and other physical labor things. Deep thought is just too much work for me.

    Have a great thoughtful poetic day.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Eumaeus says:

    Also, just what I needed. We will get there. This is a slow process.


  4. shoreacres says:

    This is one of my favorites, and has been since the day I stumbled over it. What’s best about it now is that I can read it as much descriptively as prescriptively: about 50/50. Still, being even halfway down the road he describes isn’t bad.

    I did smile at this line: “Any readers who like your work, doubt their judgment.” For some reason, it reminded me of another line that’s always amused me. When asked what he’d do if he was elected mayor of New York, Bill Buckley said, “I’d demand a recount.” 🙂


    • shoreacres says:

      I just discovered that a fellow from West Texas who runs a historical photo blog is starting a series on spring planting. He posts one photo a day – Saturday was the first of this series. You might enjoy looking at the photos each morning.


    • Bill says:

      Glad to have a fine poet like you as a reader Linda.

      I often read Mr. Berry aspirationally (if that makes sense). I once wrote a post, years ago, complaining about people who read him as if he were nothing more than some sort of articulate dinosaur. When you say you are halfway down the road I nod in agreement. It is a journey and you’re not afraid to take it.


  5. BeeHappee says:

    Thanks, Bill, great read on Sunday morning. All beautiful, and unconditioned air made me smile.
    Dave, climbing a tree is best poetry. Thank you.


    • Bill says:

      How uncommon it has become to breathe unconditioned air. That’s a pity.
      Glad you enjoyed the poems Bee (Dave’s and Mr. Berry’s).

      Liked by 1 person

      • BeeHappee says:

        Actually, we had lived in Chicago’s humid heat without air for 18 summers now. For the most part, it is bearable, and I do hate air conditioning, although there are a few days I wished I had it, we just go under the sprinkler then. 🙂


  6. avwalters says:

    Except for the disturbing fact that we all read this on a screen…. a lovely Sunday morning read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      The evolution of this post:

      I read a post in which the blogger said he was considering stopping his blog and stepping away from computers and the internet for a while. It caused me to start a post about invasion of our privacy (via the internet) by government spying and by our use of social media. That caused me to remember this poem’s line about screens, which I was going to quote. After a few false starts I decided to ditch the whole thing and just post the poem. Best decision of the morning I think. 🙂

      It is ironic, of course, that we read and praise Wendell Berry on the internet (he having famously declared that he will never own a computer). He even has fan pages on Facebook and Twitter. But I’m OK with that.

      After I posted this I spend most of the day outside, breathing unconditioned air.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I read this and shared it with a friend yesterday. Thanks for bringing it up again Bill. The word for the hour.


  8. barnraised says:

    Lovely reminder!


  9. Bob Braxton says:

    reread at a screen I did not stay away from


    • Bill says:

      It is difficult to avoid screens entirely. I’m pretty sure you are living three-dimensionally, despite some time spent looking at a screen.


  10. Great post, Bill! Thank you for sharing.


  11. df says:

    The idea of a ‘three-dimensional life’ is what resonates most with me from all of the fine lines in that poem. Thanks, Bill.


  12. EllaDee says:

    “Breathe with unconditional breath
    the unconditioned air.
    Shun electric wire.
    Communicate slowly. Live
    a three-dimensioned life;
    stay away from screens.”

    I’m working hard on this, but it made me smile!


  13. DM says:

    Wendell Berry’s poetic voice resonates with me. I’m on track to have a quiet Christmas eve…think I’m going to read, and re-read this poem a few times then see what comes of it. Thanks for the link earlier today . DM


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